Highly respected for his vision, drive and passion for the Arts, opera director Dieter Kaegi is known throughout the world for his inspiring productions of the great operatic standards of the Western canon of classical music. Currently General Manager at TOBS Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn in Switzerland, the Zurich-born impresario has held posts at English National Opera, Zurich and Düsseldorf. He is former Director of Productions at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and spent 11 years as Director of Opera Ireland. Along with Jennifer O'Connell, Kaegi founded the hugely successful Lismore Festival in Waterford (Ireland), for which he is director. In 2008 he was honoured with the title 'Cavaliere' by the Italian Government for his excellent services to Italian culture.
Final Note caught up with Kaegi to discuss his love of opera, the failure of Opera Ireland, and his present role at TOBS Theater Orchester.
Having studied musicology and German literature, why did you sidestep academia in favour of a career in administration?
The career in administration came later. I left the university as I was more interested in the practice of theatre/opera than in the theory about it provided by the studies. I left university to become, and to be, a director.
Was performance ever an option?
It was. In fact it was more than an option as I was a professional ballet dancer. After 6 years of training and two years in the profession, I realised that I was not happy on stage as a performer. I wanted to direct.
Aesthetically speaking, why is opera so important to you?
I don't think that you can see the aesthetical element of opera separated from the rest, that is music, theatre, performers etc.... Aesthetically, opera has a big impact on an audience already by its size, its dimensions, both of the auditorium and on stage.
Having directed well over 100 operas throughout the course of your career, do you have any particular highlights?
The highlights were the dramatically strong operas — often pieces of the 20th century that reached the audience more that many belcanto operas.
When programming forthcoming seasons, what elements do you take into consideration within your selection process?
I try to find a balance between operas of different periods, in different languages, of different genres to provide a wide range of pieces.
How does an opera production for stage differ to that of film?
If by 'film' you mean operas that were actually filmed in a studio or outdoors, the result is often unsatisfactory. Opera is the most artificial art form of all...the furthest away from reality. To set this artificiality into nature or a daily live reality does not usually work. It is therefore necessary to create images of artificiality in an opera film to make it work.
As former artistic director of Opera Ireland, why do you think the company did not survive, and do you think attitudes towards Irish opera have evolved since your time there?
Quarrels between the Arts Council and the Department of Culture led to the extinction of Opera Ireland. Opera has no political lobby in Ireland.
Within any field of classical music, performers, management and administrators often have to deal with negative criticism — how do you handle such a challenge?
I like constructive criticisms and I like to explain and to discuss. But I have difficulties in dealing with ignorance and arrogance.
Why did you decide to set up the Lismore Music Festival in Ireland?
Together with Jennifer O'Connell, I wanted to create a platform to give Irish singers and musicians a possibility to perform. This is what was missing in Ireland. There is so much talent and no opportunities.
How did you feel about receiving the prestigious 'Order of Cavaliere' by the Italian Government for your services to the arts and opera in 2008?
It was a nice thing to receive. I have the greatest admiration for Italian culture and for Italy in general. I'm fortunate to live only a few miles from the Italian border and I use every opportunity to cross that border into that wonderful country.
Tell us about your current role as General Manager of the TOBS Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn in Switzerland.
We are a company with over 200 employees. We produce opera, theatre, dance and concerts. We perform in 2 towns, Biel and Solothurn, and we also tour them to other parts of Switzerland and abroad. As General Director I'm responsible for both the artistic and administrative sides of the company. Our symphony orchestra is one of 11 professional orchestras in Switzerland. We produce over 400 events and sell over 70,000 tickets annually.
What does 2016 hold for you?
2016 will start with one of my favourite operas, a production of Richard Strauss' Capriccio that I will direct in Metz, France.
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